On its Facebook page, South Hebron Hills Watch writes that it is “a group of American volunteers who work to publicize events in the South Hebron Hills … to inform Americans of the daily effects of Occupation.”
The South Hebron Hills region of Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank) has been in the news over the past few months because of the growing intensity of violence. In substantiation of the claim that Israel is committing crimes against the Arabs in the region, the group uploaded a video to its page that, upon closer examination, however, shows the opposite of what it is trying to prove.
In a Facebook post, members write: “Israel has stepped up demolition (blocking) of dirt roads used by Palestinian villages to reach their fields for watering and harvesting. Deliberate harassment that destroys lives and inflicts economic pain. Pushing Palestinians off their land.”
The video hints at why these roads have to be demolished (blocked). While demolished is a much harsher term than blocked and they would probably prefer, for propaganda purposes, to be able to write the former, the visual evidence shows that the road has merely been blocked. This is too obvious for them to claim otherwise, but it is possible that the word “demolished” stays in viewers’ minds.
They accuse Israel of deliberate harassment—surely, those around the world who want to add an extra room or a garage to their homes without a permit, grow chickens or goats in their backyards without a permit, erect a fence around their yard that happens to include 100 meters of an adjacent public park, etc., all consider the authorities to be harassing them when insisting they refrain from such actions or demolish what they have already constructed. And harassing them deliberately. It certainly is inconvenient to have to obey the local planning and construction laws.
Is Israel pushing Palestinians off their land? No, and the answer requires some explanation. The South Hebron Hills is in Area C that was designated as being under full Israeli control. The contract that determined it as such was signed by former PLO leader Yasser Arafat on behalf of the Palestinian Arabs living in Judea and Samaria. That contract goes by the name of the Oslo Accords.
Area C is an inconvenience both for Israel and for the newly created Palestinian Authority in that within it there are bubbles or islands of Area B, places that are under joint Israeli and PA control. In fact, Area B consists of villages for which the P.A. provides municipal and other services, such as education and health. The P.A. and Israel share responsibility for security issues.
Area A is under exclusive P.A. control.
Beyond the borders of the villages lies Area C; any construction that Arabs want to engage there requires permits from Israeli authorities. These are hard to come by, for sure. However, an informative map of land use shows that Arab construction in Area C covers 10 percent of the available land while, curiously, Jewish construction covers only 7 percent. In Areas A and B, where the P.A. has authority to permit construction, 63 percent of this land remains available for use. Therefore, the argument claiming that building in Area C is the only way to provide for the growing Arab population is just not true.
In fact, the village and the dirt road shown in the video are both illegal. Anyone attempting to build a dirt road without a permit in any other country will find it at least blocked and most likely actually demolished.
The village in the video, Qawawis, is illegal, erected by squatters. Their claim that water tankers cannot reach it (while untrue) substantiates that. If it was a legal town, there would be complete water, electric, communications and transportation infrastructure. Furthermore, an article decrying the demolition of a family home in Qawawis in 2018 stated clearly that the family never filed a request for a construction permit, and a reliable source who wishes to remain anonymous confirmed that the entire village is illegal. Perhaps South Hebron Hills Watch may consider doing an exposé on why the Israeli Civil Administration does not take down illegal villages in Area C even when the Israeli Supreme Court has concluded that they are illegal and subject to demolition.
Funnily enough, the video image contradicts the video text. The text claims that the roadblock (the red “X”) prevents farmers from the village of Qawawis (blue circle) from getting to their fields (circled in green). However, the “X” appears at the point where the dirt road meets up with Highway 317 and clearly does not block access between the village and the fields at all.
A scene in the video shows just that—the blocking of the road where it meets up with the highway. Yet the text goes on to emphasize how this blocks villagers access to their fields, forcing the Arabs to abandon their fields so that Israel can build more settlements on their land.
The following image is intended to demonstrate how farmers cannot get from the village to the fields, but the photo was taken at the point at which the dirt road meets the highway—i.e., the red “X” on the first screenshot above. The dirt road, in fact, goes from the olive grove without interruption all the way to the village at the horizon. Therefore, the claim that the villagers’ livelihood “is disrupted with a single act” is patently false.
The video text claims that Palestinians cannot own heavy equipment, meaning that “clearing roads is lengthy and arduous.” Since this region is under full Israeli control, by agreement, only the Israeli administration can authorize new roads and then construct them. In any case, in spite of having blocked the junction of this road with Highway 317, water tankers and ambulances are able to reach the village by means of other roads in the region.
The final text on the video reads: “One day of the occupation. Two roads blocked. Hundreds of lives disrupted.” Viewers are not shown the second road. Perhaps it is one of the smuggling routes carved out between the South Hebron Hills and the Arad area, as reported in The Jewish Press: “The illegal route, about three-mile[s] long, is located entirely on state land and allows a relatively comfortable ride for private cars. The cost of its construction is estimated at more than $850,000.”
The European Union provided these funds, and construction of this route belies the claim that the Palestinian Arabs cannot build (illegal) roads other than by a “lengthy and arduous” process. The hundreds of lives disrupted, according to the video, could certainly have been supported quite well if the $850,000 was directed towards improving village life in legal villages rather than their cynical use of Arabs as pawns in their activism meant to delegitimize Israel.
Consumers of material such as videos like this one are advised to look at them closely and see if the text arguments are consistent with what is being shown in the images. It is possible that, as in this case, the propaganda materials prove the opposite of what the organization wants people to believe.
Sheri Oz is a retired family and trauma therapist living in Israel for more than 45 years.